Salaries and allowances for judiciary members and their teams now cost €10 million a year, but despite the investment, Malta’s court system – one of the EU’s most archaic and slowest – remains stuck in seemingly never-ending delays and backlogs.
According to new information published in Parliament, each Judge presiding over the Superior Courts and their team cost the state a total of close to €250,000 a year.
Apart from the Judges’ €105,000-a-year financial package, their staff – including messengers, drivers, attorneys, and clerks – add up to an additional expenditure of €136,000 per Judge. These costs exclude other expenses such as overtime and the leasing of vehicles.
Magistrates, who preside over the Inferior Courts and have a raft of other duties, including magisterial inquiries, and their teams cost less than Judges but still set the public coffers back some €180,000 each.
While Magistrates themselves earn €95,000 a year in salaries and allowances, the costs of their teams – a part-time judicial assistant, a deputy registrar, a court clerk, and a messenger/driver – run at around €85,000 per Magistrate a year.
In total, Malta has 25 Judges and 23 Magistrates, which cost the state more than €10 million a year.
The Judiciary, including the Chief Justice, has been harping for years on the need for more resources. This includes the need for more Judges and Magistrates, but each time the numbers are increased, no real progress is registered, and the backlog of pending cases remains.
The financial remuneration given to members of the Judiciary increased significantly over the last few years to attract legal minds to the Bench. But the situation at the law courts nevertheless continues to deteriorate, with delays becoming longer and longer.
According to the latest European Commission benchmark – the Rule of Law Report, which compares the judicial systems in EU member states – Malta’s court delays when it comes to filing cases and final decisions are, on average, double those of other EU countries.
The delays vary according to the nature of the case in question, with criminal cases of a first degree taking less time than others.
As matters stand, most court cases are heard only in the mornings, and the law courts are almost entirely closed every day after 2pm. Most members of the judiciary work on their caseloads from home on Fridays and the courts are reduced to a part-time institution in the summer.
It is also a rarity that cases are heard at their appointed times, although some newer judiciary members are beginning to administer their caseloads more efficiently.
The government is currently in the process of appointing two more Judges and Magistrates to try to reduce the backlog.